ISLAMABAD: While all the key stakeholders were onboard, the PML-N government on Monday succumbed to the demands of a few TV anchorpersons and withdrew the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2023.
In a sharp tone and with teary eyes, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb announced the withdrawal of the bill in a meeting of Senate standing committee on information.
The committee was chaired by Senator Fawzia Arshad and attended by the representatives of journalists and media organisations.
Addressing the meeting, the minister said it was her government’s desire to abolish the ‘old black law of Pemra’, introduced by a dictator.
“The legislation had been formulated after careful consideration,” she said. As she asserted the government would never compromise on the constitutional right to freedom of expression and civil liberties, there was resentment among some anchorpersons in the committee. Eventually Ms Aurangzeb lost her composed posture and with teary eyes, she said: “We had been told to hold consultations. Now [when] after so much deliberations over the bill, amendments are coming, — the government has decided to withdraw this Pemra Bill 2023.”
She then left the committee room. As she went out, journalists present in the committee room expressed their support for the bill, and most of them followed her.
The minister later told reporters consultation had been held for more than a year with all relevant bodies and the whole bill had been restructured. “Now they are saying that we have formulated a black law,” she remarked.
On the other hand, several committee members were of the opinion that the bill should have been adopted as all the efforts made during past one year would be wasted in case of withdrawal.
The committee was informed that some of the anchorpersons who were opposing the bill had been part of the consultation process and had agreed to the clauses related to ‘disinformation and misinformation’.
Later, in protest against the government’s withdrawal of the bill, the journalists covering the assembly session staged a walkout. Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf asked minister Rana Tanvir to talk to the media persons.
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar later briefed the house that some anchorpersons presented themselves in the Senate standing committee on information and expressed dissatisfaction over the new bill.
Returning to the house after persuading the journalists to call off their walkout, Rana Tanvir said there were disagreements over some clauses. He said, “I request the information minister to reconsider the decision. We still have a day left and this may be presented in the Senate committee on Tuesday.”
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2023